COVID-19 Separated Parents and Arrangements for Children
Parents might feel worried and confused about COVID-19 (coronavirus) and what this means for the arrangements for their children (where children spend time and live, and who makes decisions for them).
Every family is different. There are 3 important things to know:
- You have to keep following any Court Parenting Orders, unless you have a reasonable excuse (a good reason) not to;
- Everyone must follow laws and public health rules to keep safe and healthy and stop the spread of COVID-19; and
- You should try and work through any changes with the other parent/care-giver and agree together, if that is safe for you and the children.
Frequently asked questions
Do I have to follow our Parenting Plan or Court Orders?
If you have Court Orders about parenting, or a parenting plan, you should follow them unless you have a good reason (‘reasonable excuse’) not to.
This might include:
• A health worker tells you and the children to go into quarantine;
• You cannot travel somewhere; and/or
• If the order says a child spends time with a parent at a supervised contact centre that is not open now.
If you are isolating or in quarantine with children, or it is not safe for children to spend time with the other parent during the COVID-19 crisis, tell the other parent and make sure children can spend time with the other parent another way eg by phone or video calling apps.
You might also talk about how the other parent can catch up on their time that they are not able to have (make-up time) with the children when it is safe to follow the parenting plan or Orders.
What if I don’t follow the Orders?
If you do not follow parenting Court Orders and do not have a reasonable excuse (good reason), the other parent can take you to court. The Family Law Courts are still open. The Courts can make orders for make-up time and give penalties. The Court can also penalise the parent who is not following the Court Orders. The kind of penalty will depend on how serious the reason was for you not following the orders.
What laws and guidelines do I need to follow?
Laws and guidelines change quickly. It is a good idea to check for up-to-date information on the Australian Government Department of Health national coronavirus health alerts or call the national hotline on 1800 020 080. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Northern Territory Government also has information, updates and advice.
What do we do if we change a Parenting Plan or Court Orders?
During the COVID-19 crisis you may need to make temporary changes – for now, not always. This might include handovers. For example, many families do a handover at school, or in a public place like a restaurant. This is not possible if these places are closed.
To change a parenting plan or Court orders you can:
- If it is safe, try to communicate with each other about the changes and try to agree on a safe and practical way to solve the problem for everyone, including the children. Be sensible and reasonable.
- Please try to write down what you agree on. It can be in a text message or email. This will help everyone to know what to do and help make sure everyone follows it.
What if we cannot agree?
The law says parents must try to work things out. If you cannot agree then you can get help from family dispute resolution (mediation) services. The Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission does family dispute resolution. To find out about it see here.
If you still can’t agree, or if it is not safe for you to communicate, you might have to ask a Court to decide. The Courts are still open. They have changed how they work, to keep people healthy and safe and reduce the spread of coronavirus.
They will help people with urgent problems with safety and what happens for children. Many court services are by phone or video link, and might take longer.
The Family Section at NT Legal Aid Commission helps people with parenting arrangements. To obtain more information or to make an appointment for some free legal advice, call the Legal Aid Helpline on 1800 019 343.
The Courts have information for parents – Question and Answers from the Family Law Court
The Law Council of Australia Family Law Section has a Top ten guide for separated parents during Covid19
If you want to talk to someone and get help understanding this, call our Helpline 1800 019 343
For more information about family law see this website
If you are worried about your safety please see the Domestic Violence Legal Service fact sheet DVLS COVID 19 Service Change for more information.
If you need help with feeling isolated, worried, anxious or need help with health issues, alcohol and substance use or social and financial problems you can contact CatholicCareNT on 1800 899 855 or www.catholiccarent.org.au